High-ranking conservatives warned Boris Johnson that a strip of seats on the “blue wall” in southern England could be at risk, as his party was plagued by recriminations after the Liberal Democrats’ shocking victory in the choice of Chesham and Amersham.
Downing Street came under new pressure to shed Johnson’s controversial planning reforms, which many MPs blamed for the humiliating loss of the Buckinghamshire seat.
The by-election saw a historic 25% swing toward liberal Democrats from Ed Davey, allowing his new MP, Sarah Green, to topple a majority of 16,000 in a constituency that had been conservative since its inception in 1974.
A Conservative MP representing a Southeastern seat said the unrest was “worrisome” and that the Liberal Democrats had shown they could successfully rally voters against the government’s planning reforms, which would strip local residents of the powers to oppose developments.
They said: “We will have to take into account the possibility of combating those messages or changing the policy.” The Backbench rebels now believe they have the numbers to defeat the legislation in its current form, although the bill is unlikely to reach the House of Commons until the fall.
Fears are also mounting in local government, with a conservative source warning: “Number 10 needs to quickly wake up to the fact that its ‘build, build, build’ agenda is going to destroy the blue wall of home counties.”
Speaking at a victory rally in a Chesham community room on Friday morning, Davey said, “You know what? I think there are a lot of Conservative MPs across the country who are now concerned.”
“People have been talking about the red wall; I think after Chesham and Amersham, they will talk about the blue wall and how Liberal Democrats are the main threat to Conservatives in large parts of the country,” he said. .
To reinforce the point in a very literal way, Davey represented the television cameras in front of an actual wall made of blue plastic bricks and proceeded to knock it down with an orange mallet.
There was, Davey said, “quite a bit of anti-Boris sentiment,” on the doorstep, and concern for the Tories’ leadership under Johnson’s more populist and culture-war-focused leadership.
“To them, the emperor has no clothes,” Davey said, “These kinds of traditional liberal conservatives care about foreign aid, things like free school meals for poor children and they care about civil liberties. And they are just being ignored. “
Johnson himself rejected the idea that he had neglected the South in his bid to win seats like Hartlepool, which the Conservatives took from Labor in a by-election last month.
Calling the result “disappointing”, he said there were “particular circumstances” at stake. Aides suggested he was referring to HS2, the high-speed rail line that runs through nearby Chilterns.
Speaking to Sky News, Johnson said it was “strange” to accuse his party of being unpopular in the South, pointing to the fact that he had won London’s mayoral election twice and insisting that the Conservatives are “a great party of a single nation “.
The prime minister also defended the proposed planning changes, calling them “sensible.”
“What we want are reasonable plans to allow development in brownfields. We will not build on parkland sites. We are not going to build across the field, but I think that young people growing up in this country should have the opportunity to own a home, and that is what we are focusing on, ”he said.
However, an indirect MP involved in the campaign against planning reforms said it was “silly” to blame the loss only on HS2. “It is related to planning: those parliamentarians who went to the electoral campaign and saw the reaction at the door know that it is so. They are sending us a message. “
Some Tories privately blamed Tory headquarters complacency for the loss of the previously rock-solid seat, but others pointed to Johnson’s stance on various issues, notably the planning proposals.
Robert Hayward, the peer and sephologist, told The Guardian: “It is clear that there will be a marked impact on Robert Jenrick’s planned planning legislation, because the message will come back to the entire Southeast that this is what the opposition is going to do. follow the parties “.
One Conservative aide admitted: “I don’t think anyone at CCHQ expected such a big victory for the Liberal Democrats.”
They said building houses was important, but: “We shouldn’t anger our central conservative voters in the counties who could end up abandoning us if we become too obsessed with an unpredictable constituency on the northern ‘red wall’. We won them in 2019 with a mix of Boris and Brexit. Next time it could be very different. “
Former Conservative MP for South West Hertfordshire, David Gauke, kicked out of the party by Johnson over Brexit, said: “There is a realignment in British politics and that has favored the Conservatives – he gave them a large majority last time because the The first stage of this was the fall of the red wall.
“But there is a group of seats – up to 30 or 40 – where the Conservative vote is not Johnsonian, considers the government to be quite populist, does not focus on the interests of taxpayers, is not pro-business enough, and that vote it’s soft . And it’s vulnerable. “
Highlighting the losses of the Conservatives in his local area in recent local elections in “very prosperous middle-class suburban areas” such as Hitchin, Harpenden and Bishops Stortford, he added, “the current trajectory of the Conservative Party is not particularly sympathetic to those. areas, and the neighbors do not particularly sympathize with what the Conservative Party has become.
The Liberal Democrats now have 12 MPs, eight of them women. In her acceptance speech, Green, a marketing company owner, said: “Together we have said enough is enough, we will be heard and the government will listen.”
The Labor vote tumbled to just 622, behind the Greens at 1,480, suggesting that Labor supporters had supported the candidate most likely to beat the Tories.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism